Six hotel restaurants that don't serve hotel food
Cape Cod Room This seafood restaurant has been the flagship of the Drake Hotel’s dining program since 1933. Sea-blue tablecloths, uniformed waiters and nautical paraphernalia are all proudly presented without a hint of irony, which is why it may be the only restaurant in Chicago where you can, and should, order throwback dishes like lobster thermidor or Dover sole prepared tableside. 140 E Walton Pl (312-787-2200). El: Red to Chicago. Bus: 3, X4, 10, 26, 66, 125, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 151. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $25.
Cibo Matto Chef Todd Stein has a lot of good ideas for theWit’s high-end dining spot, some of which result in really great dishes. His rich roasted chicken livers, for instance, are paired with polenta and mushrooms to a deliciously earthy effect. He’s a master of pasta, and his corzetti topped with sweet corn and thick bucatini with bacon is enough to make this place a destination. 201 N State St, second floor (312-239-9500). El: Brown, Green, Orange, Pink, Purple (rush hrs) to State/Lake; Red to Lake. Lunch (Tue–Fri), dinner. Average main course: $30.
David Burke’s Primehouse Has star chef David Burke given Chicago a steakhouse like no other? Let’s put it this way: We’ve definitely never come across a crab cake quite so deliciously unique (the impeccable meat is shaped like a maki roll and crusted in Japanese pretzels), and the popovers that stand in for bread are a nice twist. We found the filet to be unstoppably tender and rich; the strip, not so much. So is it different? Yes. But not so different that your parents won’t like it. 616 N Rush St (312-660-6000). El: Red to Grand. Bus: 3, X3, X4, 10, 26, 33, 36, 125, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 151. Breakfast, brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch (Mon–Sat), dinner. Average main course: $45.
Elate Chef Randal Jacobs’s crispy-pork-and-dried-cherry flatbread is simultaneously sweet, peppery and creamy. His fried dough, dipped into a thick pesto, is addictive. And his smoked chicken with corn fritters tastes like summer. And yet his best dish is a spinach salad with molten egg and chicharrones. That’s right: a salad. It takes a pretty special chef to make salad so appealing. Hotel Felix, 111 W Huron St (312-202-9900). El: Red, Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Chicago. Bus: 22, 36, 156. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
Fornetto Mei An upscale hotel dining room with a menu that’s two-thirds Italian and one-third Asian would normally send us running. But this place surprised us at every turn. We watched as a pizza maker rolled out the dough for our delicious pie of grapes, goat cheese and sausage and baked it to perfection. And a trio of plump seafood dumplings were tasty little things that could have come out of any Chinese kitchen—or, for that matter, an Italian one. 107 E Delaware Pl (312-573-6300). El: Red to Chicago. Bus: 22, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 151. Breakfast, brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch, dinner. Average main course: $22.
312 Chicago Now that chef Dean Zanella has moved on, the real draws here are the cocktails and the desserts. At the bar, cucumber puree makes a Tom Collins even more refreshing, and muddled navel oranges transport a mint julep from the South to southern Italy. Meanwhile, pastry chef Kimberly Schwenke keeps season in mind with desserts like ricotta cheesecake with roasted pears and pumpkin-hazelnut crostata with maple gelato. Hotel Allegro, 136 N LaSalle St (312-696-2420). El: Brown, Pink, Orange, Purple (rush hrs) to Washington/Wells. Bus: 14, 20, X20, 56, 60. Brunch (Sun), lunch (Tue–Fri), dinner. Average main course: $20.